Internet forums can have a positive influence on self-harmers, say researchers

Study showed that online forums are "most commonly used" for support and empathy

Internet forums and chatrooms can have a positive influence on young people at risk from self-harm or suicide, researchers have found.

The review, which comes from researchers at Oxford University, does admit that there are also negative, potentially dangerous aspects to forums, however.

Of the 14 studies that make up the review, seven report the positive influences of internet forums. According to the review, forums and chatrooms are “most commonly used” for constructive reasons and can act as a type of community, within which users can seek support and empathy. It is also suggested that the use of forums can serve as a coping mechanism against the user’s distress and anxiety.

As a whole, the review claims that the internet can offer “acceptance” and “alleviation of loneliness and shame” which can, in turn, help to reduce the desires for self-harm or suicide that young people may have.

However, the review does outline the negative influences that the internet can exert upon young people. For one, the internet has apparently created a freedom of communication which can be exploited for cyber-bullying, which has been found to “correlate with increased risk of self-harm, suicidal ideation, and depression.”

Five studies from the review report the negative influences of forums and chatrooms. The reports highlight the concern that some discussions can potentially normalise self-harm, and that others focus on empathy and safety rather than actual prevention of destructive behaviour.

Other forums were also found that offer advice on how to conceal self-harm, whereas others go as far as to endorse destructive behaviour.

The review concludes by calling for a more extensive look into how the internet, especially chatrooms and forums, can be utilised by healthcare workers to communicate and intervene with young people who are at risk of self-harm or suicide.

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